Warmth, morale and protection.

In my last blog, I talked about the immediate aftermath of finding yourself in a survival situation, the basics of making shelter and why its important to make it a priority. In this post, I’ll be covering the next thing on the agenda, Fire.


Probably the most exciting part for any of us about going on a simple camping trip is getting a fire going. There is something about gathering and preparing materials for a fire that really sparks our primitive instincts. It can bring us back  and connect us to nature and our ancient ancestors. Something about fire brings us all together, on any trip, it’s the fire we all sit around, it creates an environment for conversation, it provides us with cooking capability’s,  helps to make any water we have gathered safe to drink, gives us warmth, and generally an all round great feeling. Mastering it gives us a huge sense of accomplishment.

No wonder then, that in a survival situation when it really counts, it gives us a huge morale boost. If you have the right knowledge and skills, getting a fire going increases your chance of surviving the ordeal massively. Not only as mentioned before, does it increase your capability’s in the wild, but it can act also to deter other natural predators. Tribes in Africa know this all too well, and upon hearing lions nearby their settlements, will stoke their fires in the night to keep them at bay.

Fire also dramatically increases our ability to get spotted from a long distance. When built correctly, signal fires create a lot of smoke, and contrasting with the surrounding environment, makes it easier for aircraft to spot you. Mastering these skills, and practising them regularly will most certainly give you the edge in a bad situation.

The fire triangle.

So you’ve got yourself to a safer spot where you can easily be seen, and a basic shelter together, so what next? In survival terms, we use what we call the “Fire triangle”, and what that means is in order to be successful in getting a fire established, it needs three things. Fuel, Heat and Oxygen. If any part of the triangle is missing, then the fire will not ignite. Start by making a base to build your fire on like the one pictured below which will help to let oxygen flow through your fire from the bottom and and keep it off the cold or wet ground giving you a better chance for success.




There are three types of material you need to look for. Tinder, kindling and main fuel. Tinder is fine dry fibrous materials, that will take a spark or ember easily and begin to burn. There are many different types, and some will work better than others. Dried grasses and sages are good to use. Birch bark, you know the one, with the white bark that’s often peeling off the trunk, works particularly well as it contains a lot of natural oils and will burn like paper. Pine wood infused with its resin or Fatwood as its commonly known is also great to use. Look for it by cutting branches off at the base and examining the core. If it is of dark colour, that indicates that resin is present. Getting some fine scrapings from it with a knife, if you’re lucky enough to have one on you, is a simple way to prepare it for taking a spark. Try to gather as much in a bundle as you can to give yourself the best chance.  Alternatively, try to find a sharp stone or other object, to harvest it. Not all tinder sources are natural, and commonly people carry some on them without even knowing. Cotton balls will catch a spark extremely well, but with petroleum based substances such as vasoline mixed with them they work a lot better, and will burn longer.  Now you may be thinking, “Who carry’s cotton balls and petroleum substances with them?” well, if think about it, ladies will often have a stray tampon floating around in their bags, along with a chap stick or lip balm. It’s the same principle. Open and fluff it up to get some oxygen through it, rub the lip balm through it, drop a spark in and you will have a tinder that will burn for a couple of minutes at least. A great piece of kit to carry on you is a ferro rod, a small metallic rod that when scraped with a striker or the back of a knife will produce a shower of hot sparks. Alternatively, you might get lucky and have a lighter which will light the tinder easily anyway. Even lighters without fuel can still be useful as they will still produce a spark which can be used to ignite the tinder.  Look outside the box in a survival situation, take everything you have at hand and in the environment and find a way to make it work for you. If there has been some sort of wreckage involved, or perhaps a vehicle breakdown and it is safe to do so, go though the crash site, and gather anything that will help you.



The next material needed to get a fire established is kindling. Kindling in itself can further be split into stages. Always gather twigs from dead standing wood. Try not to use materials that have been laying on the ground as they will have absorbed a lot of moisture and will not burn effectively. The first stage of kindling is to gather twigs about match stick thickness, these will go directly onto the burning tinder. The next stage up to add to the flame would be sticks around the thickness of your finger. Then once the fire has established enough, start adding larger logs roughly the thickness of your wrist. When it has fully established you can then begin to add larger logs. In circumstances where there isn’t a lot of kindling around, but larger material is present, it’s a good idea to split these down into smaller workable kindling. A great method to use is to make feather sticks. Once you have split a log down into finger sized thickness, take your knife or other sharp edge, be it flint or other stone, and beginning at the top of a piece, slowly move the edge at a downward angle creating soft curls with the wood, stopping just before the end. For each curl, turn the wood a fraction and make another. Repeat this process until you have a large gathering of curls, or “feathers”. This method works great because the wood at the core of any log you use, provided it is not rotten, will normally be drier and the fine feathers will take a flame easily. Make as many of these as you can, and add them to your tinder once it is burning. The drier the material the better. Green wood, or wood that is still alive, again will contain a lot of moisture, and will not burn as effectively.

If you have no items at hand to create a spark or a flame, then the bow drill method, in my experience, is one of the best ways to create an ember using only natural material which you can gather. It is made up of three pieces of wood, the bow, the drill and the hearth. The bow unlike when using a bow and arrow, should not be too flexible. Find a piece of wood, around the thickness of your wrist, slightly curved, and the length should be approximately the same as that of your hand and forearm. To string it up, you could use a shoe lace or any other cordage you have at hand. Alternatively if you do not have anything to hand of that nature, look around for natural cordage. Spruce roots work well as they are very strong. When stringing up the bow, it does not need to be too tight, as you will need to twist it around the drill later. The idea for the bow drill method is that the drill is made up of hard wood, and the hearth is made from soft wood. Rubbing these together will cause a lot of friction and a lot of heat creating an ember. You can identify the difference between these woods by using your thumb nail to try and make an impression in the wood. The softer the wood, the deeper the mark will be. The drill should be as straight as possible, with the bark removed and around 8 inches long. Sharpen one end to a point (where less friction is desired), which will be the top, and make the bottom end round and blunt (where a lot of friction is required).  Both the drill and hearth should be as dry as possible. The hearth should be made from a flat piece of softer wood. Make a round impression on the edge of the hearth, to fit the rounded end of the drill. Twist the drill once into the bow string so it will spin when being used. Use a stone or other item with a depression in it on top of the drill to minimize any friction and to protect your hand whilst using the bow drill. Place your foot on top of the hearth to stop it slipping, and begin making even strokes, using the whole length of the bow. Short strokes will be less effective as longer even strokes. Apply even pressure with your other hand on the drill to “burn it in”. Once you see some smoke and blackness appear on the hearth, stop and cut a small “V” notch into the hearth. this will collect the dust that will create the ember. Begin again with long even strokes. Once you have a lot of smoke coming from the hearth, apply more pressure on the drill, and make the strokes more vigorous. A minute or so of strong drilling should produce a small ember. You can stop once this is formed. A lot of people tend to rush at this point so the ember doesn’t go out, but in reality, you should leave it to air and grow for a few minutes. You should have your tinder ready and at hand in the shape of a birds nest, to carefully drop in the ember. When it is securely in the tinder, you can begin to gently blow on it to grow it. It may take a few minutes. The more smoke you see, the harder you blow. Soon the ember will ignite the tinder and produce flames. From here you can add your match stick sized kindling.

An old saying from native American origin goes something like,

“We build small fires and sit close. White man builds big fire and sits far away.”


To me, there is a huge wealth of information we can learn from their ways. And that quote says to me that perhaps we have a tendency to get carried away with our fires, reducing our capabilities with them. After all, it is easier to cook and boil water over a smaller fire, than it is over a roaring bonfire. In a survival situation we must be careful with the resources available to us. Making a huge fire is all well and good at first, but it may not be sustainable over a long period of time, and who knows how long it will take to get rescued. We must try to find the balance. The only exception I will make to having a larger fire is with signal fires. However that will be covered in the next blog.

Finding shelter and getting that first crucial fire going is essential, and greatly improves our chances of surviving the ordeal. It’s critical to boosting our morale, and if we are to stand any chance, we must do everything in our power to keep our spirits high in the face of adversity. We must concentrate on the job at hand, and try not to slip into any sort of a depression. Our minds are as important as any tool we possess in a survival situation, and it is essential that we protect it.


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One thought on “Warmth, morale and protection.

  1. Pingback: Warmth, morale and protection. | Rifleman III Journal

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